Perhaps even more important, a majority of 52 percent of self-described Republicans said the war is going at least "somewhat" badly -- a whopping 16 percent increase from mid-April and a strong indication that pressure is increasing on Republican lawmakers to abandon the president. Republicans have remained remarkably loyal to the White House in a series of Iraq-related votes this spring.
"It's the Republican numbers that you have to watch, given the way the White House has governed," according to Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes. "Ultimately, it's only the Republicans in Congress who can persuade the president to change course."
Particularly alarming to the White House in the latest poll, as in several others conducted over the past several weeks, is the apparent lack of confidence that Bush's vaunted "surge" strategy is working. The "surge" entailed the addition this spring of some 30,000 troops to the 135,000 already deployed to Iraq.
Only 20 percent of respondents said the surge -- which was designed mainly to tamp down sectarian violence in Baghdad -- was improving the situation in Iraq. Three out of four respondents, including a majority of Republicans, said the additional deployments, which are expected to be completed by mid-June, were either having no impact or were making things worse there.
The new survey also found that 61 percent of Americans now believe that invading Iraq was a mistake, as opposed to only 35 percent who believe that it was the right thing to do. The 26-percent spread was the widest found in any major national polling on that question.
Less than five weeks ago, respondents were much more evenly split on whether or not the invasion was a mistake. At that time, 51 percent of respondents in a CBS poll said the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq -- a significant decline from 58 percent in January, when the surge was first announced -- while 44 percent said it had done the right thing.
Last month's tighter margin may have reflected hope that the surge, which began in February, might be successful. Indeed, the mainstream media at the time focused much of its coverage on the apparent reduction in sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital, which news outlets credited to the administration's new counterinsurgency strategy.
Since then, however, media attention has focused more on the rising death toll among U.S. soldiers in Iraq, fixating particularly on a May 12 attack on a military patrol near Mahmoudiya, in which five soldiers were killed, as well as the subsequent search for three others who were apparently captured by insurgents.
Reports that sectarian violence is once again on the rise, including in Baghdad, appear to have dampened the initial optimism.
"We seem to be seeing a reaction to the anticipation that the surge might make things better," Kull said about the latest figures. "The conclusion that this is not really working seems to be consolidating, particularly among Republicans."
Bush himself appeared to recognize that perception during a press conference early Thursday in the White House Rose Garden which he opened by welcoming Congress' imminent approval of the compromise bill that will provide the war funding he wanted virtually without conditions.
He soon found himself on the defensive, however, repeatedly appealing for patience from the public in permitting the surge strategy to take its course, particularly in light of what he said he anticipated would be a particularly violent summer in the run-up to a scheduled September assessment by the strategy's author and commander, Gen. David Petraeus.
"It could make August a tough month, because, you see, what [the insurgents] are going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home," he said.
Democratic lawmakers have vowed to try again to impose a timetable for a troop withdrawal in legislation for 2008 that will be considered this summer and into September, when Petraeus is expected to make his report. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The poll found that 63 percent of respondents agreed with various proposals made by the Democratic leadership stipulating that combat troops should be withdrawn no later than the end of next year.
At the same time, nearly seven in 10 respondents said Congress should continue funding the war, but only if the Iraqi government meets a number of specific benchmarks set by the U.S. for progress in achieving national reconciliation and in prosecuting the war. The pending appropriations bill includes such benchmarks but permits Bush to continue military operations regardless of whether the benchmarks are met.
Only 30 percent of respondents in the latest poll said they approved of Bush's performance as president -- near his record low of 28 percent in a Newsweek poll released earlier this month and markedly lower than the roughly 35 percent average of all major national polling this year.
Moreover, 72 percent of respondents said they believe that the country is "seriously off on the wrong track," the highest percentage ever recorded for that question since it was first posed by a Times/CBS News poll nearly 25 years ago.
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Albion Monitor May
25, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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